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What are Legal Highs?

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The use of legal highs, or new psychoactive substances (NPS), has increased significantly in recent years, posing serious health concerns worldwide.

These substances mimic the effects of illegal drugs but exploit legal loopholes, making them attractive to users in search of a “safer” alternative.

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But are these legal highs really as safe as they seem? In this blog post, we will delve into the world of NPS, exploring their origins, the dangers they pose, and how to identify and treat addiction.

As we navigate through this complex and often misunderstood topic, we will examine the laws and regulations put in place to combat the spread of legal highs.

We will also discuss the importance of prevention and education programs, highlighting the crucial role they play in reducing the prevalence of NPS use and addiction.

Short Summary

  • New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) are drugs that exploit legal loopholes and can carry serious physical and psychological risks.

  • The UK has implemented laws to regulate the sale, use, and possession of NPS but they still remain a risk due to their unknown chemical composition.

  • Prevention initiatives such as school programs are essential in educating individuals about the dangers of these substances and providing healthy alternatives for safe decision-making.

Understanding Legal Highs: New Psychoactive Substances (NPS)

New Psychoactive Substances (NPS), sometimes referred to as legal highs, are new psychoactive substances or drugs that have been formulated to imitate established illicit drugs, such as:

  • cannabis

  • cocaine

  • MDMA

  • LSD

These illegal substances exploit legal loopholes and are not regulated by the United Nations drug control conventions.

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While they may be marketed as “so called legal highs” the truth is that NPS can be just as harmful as any other drug, if not more so. In fact, the use of legal highs for human consumption can carry serious physical and psychological risks, including the potential for addiction, overdose, and even death.

The Rise of NPS

Over the past decade, the popularity of NPS has grown exponentially, largely due to their easy accessibility and perceived safety compared to illegal drugs. The UK, for example, has the highest rate of psychoactive drug usage among young people in Europe.

This increase in prevalence has raised concerns among health professionals, law enforcement, and policymakers, leading to the implementation of new laws and regulations aimed at controlling the sale and use of these dangerous substances.

Common Types of Legal Highs

Legal highs, also known as so called legal highs, come in various forms, such as sedatives, psychedelics, and stimulants and are often marketed as plant food, bath salts, or incense.

Some of the most commonly used psychoactive substances include synthetic cannabinoids, which mimic the effects of cannabis, and designer drugs like Katy, which have been modified to remove potentially hazardous chemical ingredients.

Moreover, many of these substances, initially sold as legal highs, are now classified as illegal drugs under brand names such as ‘Spice’ or ‘Mamba’.

However, it’s important to note that the various chemical ingredients used in legal highs can vary widely. This means that users may be unknowingly consume dangerous substances with unpredictable effects.

Furthermore, the lack of regulation and quality control in the production of these substances can lead to even greater risks, as users may be exposed to contaminated or adulterated products.

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The Dangers of Legal Highs

The use of legal highs can result in serious health risks, such as addiction, long-term health issues, and even mortality. Contrary to popular belief, these substances are not safe alternatives to their illegal counterparts, as they can carry significant physical and psychological risks.

Additionally, the fact that legal highs are often marketed as “legal” or “safe” alternatives to illegal drugs can lull users into a false sense of security, further increasing the potential for harm.

Moreover, the ever-changing landscape of NPS makes it difficult for law enforcement and healthcare professionals to stay informed about the latest trends and substances, further complicating efforts to address the dangers posed by legal highs.

As a result, it is crucial for individuals to be aware of the risks associated with the use of these substances and to seek help if they or someone they know is struggling with addiction.

Physical Risks

Legal highs can cause a wide range of physical risks, depending on similar effects of other drugs, the specific substance and the drug or individual’s unique physiological makeup. For example, synthetic cannabinoids have been associated with:

  • Increased risk of seizures

  • Elevated heart rate and blood pressure

  • Profuse sweating

  • Agitation

  • The feeling of being pumped up

Similarly, the use of downers or sedatives can result in forgetfulness, unsteadiness, and an increased risk of accidents, especially when combined with alcohol or other drugs.

These physical risks can be exacerbated by the fact that the chemical composition of legal highs is often unknown or unpredictable, making it difficult for users to gauge their own safety and increasing the likelihood of overdose or other adverse reactions.

Furthermore, as legal highs are not subject to the same regulatory controls as traditional pharmaceuticals, users may be exposed to contaminants or adulterants that can cause additional risks.

Psychological Risks

In addition to the physical risks, legal highs can also cause various psychological issues, such as:

  • anxiety

  • depression

  • memory loss

  • paranoia

  • psychosis

These mental health issues can have long-lasting effects on an individual’s life, affecting their relationships, careers, and overall well-being.

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The psychological risks associated with legal highs underscore the importance of seeking help if you or someone you know is struggling with addiction to these substances.

UK Laws and Regulations on Legal Highs

In response to the growing concerns surrounding the dangers of legal highs, the UK has implemented the Psychoactive Substances Act of 2016 and the Misuse of Drugs Act of 1971 to regulate the sale and use of these substances.

These laws aim to control the production, supply, and possession of psychoactive drugs, as well as to impose penalties on those who are found to be in violation of the law when dealing with a psychoactive drug or substance.

By understanding and adhering to these laws, individuals can help reduce the prevalence of legal high use and addiction in their communities.

Additionally, healthcare professionals and policymakers should continue to work together to develop new strategies and policies aimed at further controlling the sale and use of these dangerous substances.

Psychoactive Substances Act of 2016

The Psychoactive Substances Act of 2016 criminalises the production, supply, and import of legal highs for recreational use.

This legislation grants law enforcement the authority to confiscate and eliminate any NPS encountered and close down both physical and digital drug dealerships where they suspect a supply of NPS is being traded.

Violators of the act can face up to 7 years in prison, and those found with legal highs or alcohol in their possession within custodial institutions can receive an additional 2 years to their prison sentences.

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Misuse of Drugs Act of 1971

The Misuse of Drugs Act of 1971 is a UK law that regulates the use and distribution of dangerous and harmful drugs, as well as establishing criminal offences for activities such as:

  • possession

  • dealing

  • supplying

  • manufacturing

This act still applies to illegal drugs, including any illegal drug, and includes selling legal highs, and criminalising their production, supply, and import.

By enforcing these laws, the UK government aims to protect the public from the dangers associated with legal highs, controlled drugs, alcohol and other controlled substances.

Identifying Addiction to Legal Highs

Addiction to legal highs can manifest in various physical and behavioural signs, depending on the type of drug.

Recognising the signs of addiction is essential for both individuals struggling with addiction and their loved ones, as early intervention can greatly improve the chances of successful recovery.

In this section, we will discuss some common physical and behavioural signs of addiction to legal highs. These signs can include:

  • Changes in appetite

  • Changes in sleep patterns

  • Changes in energy levels

  • Increased irritability

Physical Signs

Physical signs of addiction to alcohol or legal highs may include:

  • Sweating

  • Sleep disruption

  • Heart palpitations

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Restlessness

Additionally, alterations in physical appearance, weight loss, and health issues can indicate an addiction to these substances.

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It is important to note that the specific physical signs may vary depending on the substance in question, making it crucial for individuals and healthcare professionals to be aware of the potential risks associated with different types of legal highs.

Behavioural Signs

Behavioural signs of addiction to other drugs and legal highs can include increased sociability, agitation, lack of coordination, lack of alertness, unexplained financial difficulties, and failure to fulfil social obligations.

Additionally, individuals struggling with addiction to illegal substances may experience psychological issues such as anxiety, depression, panic attacks, irritability, and mood swings.

Recognising these signs is crucial for identifying addiction and seeking appropriate help and support.

Treatment Options for Legal High Addiction

Treating legal high addiction involves a comprehensive approach that includes detoxification, rehabilitation, and support.

The goal of treatment is to address both the physical and psychological aspects of addiction, helping individuals break free from their dependence on these substances and build a strong support system that will aid them in maintaining sobriety.

In this section, we will discuss the process of detoxification and rehabilitation for legal high addiction.


Detoxification is the crucial first step in overcoming addiction to legal highs, as it involves the process of breaking the addiction through medical supervision and medication to manage withdrawal symptoms effectively.

Detox can be a challenging and hazardous process, making it essential for individuals to seek professional assistance in a detox facility.

These facilities offer 24-hour medical care and the potential for medication prescriptions to help manage withdrawal symptoms and ensure the safety of individuals undergoing detox.

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Rehabilitation and Support

Following detoxification, rehabilitation is the next step in the treatment process. Rehabilitation programs provide a range of services, including:

  • Individual and group therapy

  • Counselling

  • Education

  • Art and recreation activities

These programs may be conducted on an outpatient or inpatient basis, and the duration of stay can range from 12-16 weeks to more than 12 months.

A key component of rehabilitation is addressing mental addiction, identifying potential triggers for drug abuse, and building a support group to help maintain sobriety.

Prevention and Education

Prevention and education efforts can play a vital role in reducing the prevalence of legal high use and addiction.

By providing individuals with accurate information about the risks associated with these substances and promoting healthy alternatives for coping with stress and peer pressure, communities can help to protect their members from the dangers of legal highs.

In this section, we will discuss the importance of community outreach programs and school-based initiatives in raising awareness about legal highs and supporting those in need.

Community Outreach

Community outreach programs can:

  • Raise awareness about the dangers of legal highs

  • Provide resources for those in need

  • Offer educational materials

  • Support groups

  • Referral services for individuals struggling with addiction or seeking further information about legal highs.

By engaging with community members and promoting open communication about the risks associated with these substances, outreach programs can help reduce their prevalence and foster a safer environment for all.

School Programs

School programs can play a crucial role in educating students about the risks of legal highs and promoting healthy alternatives for coping with stress and peer pressure.

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These programs typically cover the potential health risks and legal consequences of using legal highs, as well as strategies for managing stress and peer pressure in healthy ways.

Research has demonstrated that school programs are effective in limiting the use of legal highs among students, as students who participate in these programs are more likely to make informed decisions regarding their use of NPS.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Legal Highs Illegal in UK?

It is illegal to possess a new psychoactive substance (so called legal highs).

What are the Most Common Legal Highs?

The most common legal highs are:

  • Spice

  • Mephedrone

  • Benzo Fury

  • Etizolam

  • Clockwork Orange

  • Methoxetamine

When did they ban legal highs?

In May 2016, the UK government introduced the new Psychoactive Substances Act to ban the trade in “legal highs”.

The government subsequently published a review of its legislation two years later.

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What are the physical risks associated with legal highs?

Physical risks of legal highs include:

  • Damage to the heart

  • Nervous system

  • Immune system

  • Potential overdose or even death

This makes them a serious health risk.

These risks can be life-threatening and should not be taken lightly. It is important to be aware of the potential dangers of using legal highs and to take steps to reduce the risk of harm.

What are the psychological risks of using legal highs?

The psychological risks of using legal highs include:

  • Paranoia

  • Anxiety

  • Confusion

  • Hallucinations

This makes them an extremely dangerous choice for human consumption.


In conclusion, legal highs pose a significant threat to public health, and it is essential for individuals, healthcare professionals, and policymakers to be aware of the risks associated with these substances.

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By understanding the nature of NPS, recognising the signs of addiction, and seeking appropriate help and support, we can work together to combat the dangers posed by legal highs and promote a safer, healthier future for all.

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